Oak Park elected officials want to tell gay teens it's OK

Trustees push for village hall to join campaign to stop bullying

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Ray Johnson went from working the counter at a Michigan discount store to scrubbing toilets, demoted after a coworker revealed to his boss that he was gay. He was 19 at the time, but almost 30 years later he still gets upset about the homophobic incident.

"I know the pain that that can cause, but it does get better," the Oak Park village trustee said, getting choked up at Monday's board meeting.

Johnson and Trustee Colette Lueck, who is also gay, want Oak Park's TV station to put together a promotional video that tells gay teens that things eventually get better. And they want village hall to partner with the local high school's Gay-Straight Alliance to create the video, to eventually be posted on the "It Gets Better Project." The website was started last month after several gay teenagers committed suicide because they were bullied for being gay.

Hundreds of videos have been posted on the site, by celebrities and regular Joes alike, gay or straight. Johnson and Lueck hope Oak Park will add its own video, comforting young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who have been bullied early on in life.

Johnson hasn't heard of any specific issues locally, but doesn't want to wait for someone to take their life in Oak Park.

"We know we don't have an issue here, but we don't want to wait," he said.

The village board gave its approval to the idea on Monday, and after the blessing, Lueck said she planned to reach out to Oak Park and River Forest High School Tuesday to gauge its interest. Both trustees said they'd love to take part in the video, since they believe it's important to have a mature presence.

"You want adults in the video because it's about a better tomorrow," Lueck said. "When you feel the world has ended, you don't always see that it's going to come back another day."

Reader Comments

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Posted: October 22nd, 2010 8:12 PM

No one saids your bad or good to be gay or straight for that matter most teens are confused about their sexuality. Counselors from schools the religious community should help teens adjust so they do not harm themselves. But shoud we support gay marriage other issues the above teen problems will be used by the left to fight for gay rights as if rights were being taken away?

Marty Cavanaugh  

Posted: October 21st, 2010 7:22 PM

Coincidentally, there was a very similar announcement at a Fort Worth TX City Council meeting a week ago - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ax96cghOnY4

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2010 1:26 PM

Ms. Lee,Thank you for bringing up that quote and indeed, I believe we 'do' have issues in Oak Park, which is why I'm advocating we need to address it.What I may have said (or meant to say), was that to my knowledge we had not had an issue of teen suicide based on LGBT bullying, but indeed, we know there is bullying.To that point, we know bullying affects many and comes in many, many different forms and that message needs to be conveyed as well.

Teresa Powell from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2010 12:12 PM

I appreciate the comments of Sally Forth. Given our current national political discourse, it would be refresshing if all political candidates (and their advocates) could also adopt this approach.

Lauren Lee from Chicago, IL  

Posted: October 21st, 2010 11:21 AM

I applaud the initiative being shown by Johnson and Lueck, but I have to challenge one specific comment in the story. Johnson states, "We know we don't have an issue here." I disagree. I hear (and confront) homophobic comments almost daily at the high school. I agree that a need exists to more explicitly support GLBT teens (and citizens). Keep up the good work.

Sally Forth from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2010 8:56 AM

This great, yet simple, quotation can be applied to many discussions here in OP..."Let us not speak of tolerance. This negative word implies grudging concessions by smug consciences. Rather, let us speak of mutual understanding and mutual respect". - Fr. Dominique Pire


Posted: October 20th, 2010 2:51 PM

After seeing my posting, I realized that I hadn't mentioned why I was bullied. It was because I was gay. I never came out when I was young, because of fear of what might have happened to me, but the other kids new that I was different, so they took advantage of my "weakness for not fighting back" and without realizing, at the same time, they were making me a stronger person. That is why I posted my comment.

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 2:48 PM

One more thing: the Beye community looks prescient for trying to tackle the issue of anti-gay bullying last year, doesn't it?


Posted: October 20th, 2010 2:38 PM

Rhonda, Your comments referring to other commenters as stupid or as homophoebic is name calling also cyber bullying. Perhaps watching the proposed video would further enlighten you as to how to treat all individuals.

Christine Vernon from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 2:04 PM

If we would teach respect for all, each and every person, it would be a healthy underpinning for our entire community. This quote is instructive: "My true religion, my simple faith is in love and compassion. There is no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights...and dignity, no matter who or what they are - these are ultimately all we need." His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Tavo from Oak Park  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 2:04 PM

This is GREAT! Although I understand that OPRF has it's own Gay Straight Alliance, and that is great, but the problem is where there are students who live in rural areas, that don't have a support system like the GSA. I grew up in a small, rural country town and I got bullied EVERYDAY and had things done that were worse than what these young men and women go through, and even thought about suicide. But I came through. This needs to reach out to those areas where young people support.

Carollina Song from Oak Park  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 1:50 PM

Kudos to Ray Johnson and Colette Lueck for being proactive and taking this step. GLBT teens are at much higher risk for suicide than straight peers, due to rejection & bullying from community. Just as Oak Park was on the forefront on integration issues, Oak Park should be on the forefront of advocating equal rights for GLBT people and their families. This is the civil rights issue of our time.

Rhonda from Oak Park  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 10:20 AM

Al, you don't make any sense. Bullying is what the video's about, but because it's referring to bullying Gay's it's ok in your book? Why not just walk down the street with a shirt that says "HOMOPHOBE HERE"Also Oak Park has had a TV station for years. Welcome to Oak Park Mr. Voter. If you're going to call yourself Oak Park Voter how can you be that stupid about the area you're voting in?

Oak Park voter  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 9:46 AM

Oak Park has a TV station and produces videos? Is this funded by the huge property taxes I'm paying?


Posted: October 20th, 2010 9:02 AM

Our Trustees should not be working on a "Promotional Video", presumably at Village expense, promoting their own life style.There are plenty of things in Oak Park that should be promoted, like economic development, that would benefit the entire Village.Using public funds to promote gay causes is wrong. Using public funds to discourage bullying, wherever it occurs is fine.

Janet Barnstable from Addison  

Posted: October 20th, 2010 8:02 AM

We are all different; we are all the same. In recognizing our commonalities we learn to treasure our differences! Celebrate individuality; treasure unity. When we dare to respect each other not only for the affirmation given to us, but also for their thought provoking words, actions, way of life, then we will truely have grown up, and can begin to change the world.

Jay Bea  

Posted: October 19th, 2010 6:59 PM

Life does get better when we treat each other the way we should. There isn't any room for bullying or name calling at any age. We all should treat each other with respect and understanding. No one life style should be promoted over another. God did not create us straight, bisexual, gay, blind, without limbs, with physical or mental disabilities - nature did. However, He did give us rules to live by and when we do, life will get better for all.


Posted: October 19th, 2010 5:44 PM

Definitely a great idea. It would be nice to expand the program to all bullying which is far more prevalent. Obese children get a lot of bullying and grow up to job discrimination as adults.

Pat Healey from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2010 5:10 PM

Great idea! We want all students to feel safe and accepted in oak Park.

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